My Top 5 Tips for Working in Ink

Colour ink drawings of British garden birds
British Garden Birds - An Ongoing Personal Project

Hi! I've been meaning to make this blog more useful for a while, so today I thought I'd publish my top 5 tips for working in ink with a dip pen - my medium of choice. I hope this is helpful for you. Without further ado, let's get into it:

1. One of my top tips for working in ink is: find the right nib. I spent ages trying to find the right nib that worked with my preferred level of pressure and movement. I looked high and low for a nib that glided along the page, created really thick lines when I wanted them, and lovely thin lines when I needed to be delicate. As I also work in calligraphy, I wanted something that could switch between the two. I tried hard nibs, but I thought they were just horrible, they gave none of the flow I needed, so I started looking at softer nibs. I found this Leonardt starter set at Cass Art, but some of those caught, some blotted (largely due to my lack of skill), and some didn't give me the thicker lines I needed. Then I realised there's so much choice out there it was kind of baffling me! Until I visited Judy Broad for a calligraphy workshop and she gave us all an oblique pen holder and a Nikko G nib. I found that I didn't really need the oblique pen holder, and that I preferred it straight (as you can see from the pic above), but also that I full on loved the Nikko G nib. Then, when I was in Japan, I picked up a manga comic starter set, and it contained the Nikko Zebra Comic G nib. Oh, it was a match made in heaven! It creates thick and thin lines, flows beautifully, can be used at a lot of different angles, and works for drawing my maps too. So, if you're at a bit of loss, start with a Nikko G and see how you go from there.

2. Tip number 2: experiment with inks. This is something I did not do. I cruised straight ahead with a Winsor & Newton starter box set. I wish I'd taken the time to look at a few different inks and see how I liked them. What happened was: I liked the Winsor & Newton inks, they're good and quite liquid, they flow easily, but then I was stuck with a whole set of them for ages - I couldn't try any other inks! Then I made THE SAME MISTAKE AGAIN. And I bought a whole set of Dr Ph Martin's Bombay India Inks. These inks are more intense than Winsor and Newton, but they dry super quickly onto your nib, clogging it up really fast. Not what you want ideally. They mix nicely with water and give a slightly shiny appearance once the ink is dry. But again, I WISH I'D JUST BOUGHT A FEW. I also have a gorgeous handmade Oak Gall Ink from Naomi Hannam of, which dries to a browny-black, a beautiful sepia, that is well worth investing in. Which opened up a whole new world of making your own ink - which goes perfectly with my sustainable brand, so now I want to try that, but I'm stuck with the ones I have for the moment. *sigh* don't make my mistakes. Experiment with your ink.

3. Have a blotter on hand. Ink blots. It'll blot right at the moment you don't want it to, it'll blot when you have too much water on your nib, it'll blot if there's too much ink on your nib, it'll blot just to spite you when you can't figure out why your ink isn't coming off the pen. Take my advice: keep pieces of tissue on hand (I buy all my kitchen towel from Who Gives a Crap, paper sustainably made from bamboo that contributes to building toilets where there aren't many sanitary toilet solutions). If your ink blots, take a corner of that tissue and dip it into the blot (try not to touch the paper). It'll soak up most of the colour and water instantly, then put a clean bit of tissue directly down onto the blot (straight down, press and don't rub!), that should take off most of the rest of it. Anything that's left can probably be covered up with a bit of bleed-proof white ink. This has worked for me, you might want to practice before you try yourself!

4. This is a short one: experiment with your pen. Press harder, press softer, turn it on one side, reverse it, turn it on the other side, scribble with it. Whatever. There is no right way as far as I'm concerned and all of these tactics can create different lines that might just be perfect for what you're working on.

5. And finally, tip number 5: practice! Ink is a temperamental, unforgiving, beautiful, vibrant medium. I love it. It's totally worth the time and effort you put in. I highly suggest you check out a workshop, perhaps on of Judy Broads. Or you might want to practice at home, in which case I highly recommend the website The Postman's Knock. On this website, you can find free worksheets, tips on ink, calligraphy and drawing in ink, video courses, examples of creative uses of calligraphy and way more. I've relied on this website time and time again, and I hope you find it useful too!

Thanks so much for reading, I hope this has been useful, and hopefully I'll see you again!

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